5 Steps of Grievance Procedure in South Africa

A workplace grievance can be a concern or complaint of dissatisfaction or injustice made by an employee to the employer, relating to the nature of the job, management policies, and procedures. As it is inevitable for conflict to arise for many reasons where groups of people work together, how the conflict is being managed makes all the difference, including stipulated fair and formal grievance procedures.

Employers are therefore required to know their responsibilities in handling grievance procedures. Also, managers and supervisors have a role to play in managing workplace grievances. Failure to respond appropriately, promptly, and fairly would lead to poor labor relations and decreased productivity at work. Although grievance procedures may differ in diverse places, the process is deemed straightforward and transparent to ensure employee satisfaction.

What is Workplace Grievance?

Workplace grievance may take many forms; however, it is a complaint that an employee raised with an employer regarding violations of legalities such as employment contracts, policies, and national standards. The complaint can be made informally through verbal discussions or made formal in writing by completing a workplace grievance form.

Grievances will always arise at some point in a workplace, and the complaint may be about a fellow employee, supervisor, manager, or even the employer. The dissatisfaction issues may be related to discrimination, bullying, and harassment.

Examples of issues relating to workplace grievances are:

  • Organizational changes
  • Discrimination
  • Work environment
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Workplace health and safety
  • Terms and conditions of employment
  • Relationships in the workplace

The major causes of workplace grievance are classified into four. They are:

1. Work Environment

  • Unreasonable workloads and objectives
  • Poor conditions
  • Poor standards
  • Poor quality equipment and material

2. Economic

  • Incentives
  • Wages (fixation and revision)
  • Allowances
  • Bonus
  • Welfare
  • Overtime

3. Supervision

  • Favoritism
  • Negligence
  • Biased judgments
  • Nepotism
  • Non-recognition

4. Work Group

  • Victimization
  • Isolation
  • Ridicule/humiliation
  • Factions/cliques

What is a Grievance Procedure?

When not resolved accordingly, grievances, which can take the form of a collective dispute or feeling of dissatisfaction by an employee, can affect the employee’s efficiency and morale. Hence, a grievance procedure is effective in handling a concern, problem, or complaint that an employee raises with the employer in South Africa.

In everyday working life, informal grumbles from employees about work, colleagues, or employers have become unavoidable and sometimes do not need serious attention. Nevertheless, when the complaint has been made formally, it is very necessary that it should be managed, investigated, and resolved through fair and lawful procedures.

Five Steps Involved in Grievance Procedure in South Africa for an Employee

Every worker has a right to fairness at work based on the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Thus, employees that feel dissatisfied with the nature of the job or have a complaint to raise with their employers should follow these guidelines, which are part of the grievance procedure, to resolve the issue. They include:

  • Informal complaint to immediate supervisor
  • Reporting the grievance directly to the line manager
  • Mediation
  • Moving the problematic situation to the HR department
  • Appealing to higher authority if the above steps fail to resolve the issue

STEP 1: Informal Complaint to Immediate Supervisor

As an employee, the first thing to do about workplace grievance is to report the issue to your immediate supervisor through an informal approach. This could be in the form of discussion, as there is no need to escalate the issue at this point without first trying to resolve it at a lower level.

This first step of a grievance procedure is also applicable if the employee’s complaint is against the immediate supervisor. It will be crucial for both parties to have a dialogue first, which could lead to a resolution.

As most organizations train their managers and supervisors on how to handle work-related issues without being biased, the grievance procedure at this stage should take a maximum of three working days to be resolved.

STEP 2: Report the Grievance Directly to the Line Manager

This second step is required when the immediate supervisor is unable to handle the grievance fairly to the employee’s satisfaction. Now, the worker can lodge the complaint to higher personnel, such as the line manager.

At this stage, the employee must make a formal report by putting the complaint in writing or by completing a grievance form, if available in the workplace. Therefore, the line manager is expected to respond timely to the issue and should get it addressed within ten working days.

Grievance procedures
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STEP 3: Mediation

Considering a mediation is the third step to be taken at this point as it is a very crucial process in getting a resolution. If the process of getting the grievance resolved seems to be at a standstill, mediation is incorporated immediately by most organizations and is being handled by persons not involved in the complaint to ensure absolute fairness.

However, it’s noteworthy that mediation cannot be incorporated when handling a grievance that requires an investigation or disciplinary action after a final decision is taken. Also, mediation should be avoided when both parties involved in the issue have no power to settle the matter at hand amicably.

STEP 4: Move the Issue to the HR Department

If the grievance is yet to be resolved at this point, then the matter should be escalated to the Human Resource department. Based on the South African law on grievance under labour law, an employee is meant to fill a grievance form within ninety days when they become fully aware of the grievance.

As such, the worker is required to forward the grievance form or letter to the HR department to get it resolved as soon as possible. Once the form is received, the department only has 30 days to get the employee a satisfactory resolution.

However, the timeframe can be extended with proper consultation between the parties involved, and the mutual agreement to extend the timeframe must be made formal in writing.

STEP 5: Make an Appeal to a Higher Authority if the Above Steps Fail to Resolve the Grievance

In a situation whereby the outlined steps above failed to get a satisfactory result, the employee will now have to consider appealing to higher authorities such as the Council for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA). This external body handles workplace grievances when it is beyond management’s control. However, the disputes that can be referred to the CCMA include:

  • Unfair labour practices
  • Unfair dismissals

Unfair labor practices according to section 186(2) of the Labour Relations Act, 66 of 1995 and its later amendment include the following:

  • Unfair suspension of an employee or any other unfair disciplinary action short of dismissal
  • Refusal or failure of an employer to re-employ or reinstate a former worker in terms of any agreement
  • Unfair conduct by the employer relating to demotion, probation (which includes conflicts about dismissal about probation), promotion, or training of an employee, or provision of a worker’s benefits
  • An occupational detriment, other than dismissal that contravenes the Protected Disclosures Act (Act 26 of 2000), on account of the employee having made a protected disclosure stipulated in the act

Note: At any stage of the grievance procedure, an employee is entitled to getting a representative to help present the case properly. The representative can be a colleague, a trade union official, or someone who is well certified to handle the case.

5-Step Grievance Handling Procedures By an Employer

Depending on the type of complaint raised by an employee, an employer is expected to be objective in their approach to handling the issue and take the appropriate steps in addressing the problem of concern.

By alerting an employer of what’s going on in the workplace, also, an employer is required to protect the employee where possible. That said, the steps to be taken by an employer in the handling of grievance procedures include:

STEP 1: Informal Approach

An employer’s first step in resolving a grievance when lodged is to make an initial attempt to get a resolution informally. The purpose of dialogue with the employee is to settle the case early on, preventing it from escalating. It is essential to understand how the employee would like the grievance to be resolved at this stage. Thus, an employer must listen attentively, considering what the employee has to say.

The employer should also assure the employee that the complaint will be taken seriously and addressed at once. However, if the informal approach fails to settle the grievance, a formal process should be taken immediately.

STEP 2: Schedule a Formal Meeting With the Employee

After trying an informal approach, a grievance hearing is the next step in handling a grievance procedure. At this point, the employee is allowed to explain the grievance in detail, providing tangible information or evidence to support the complaint. The employer, therefore, should establish facts such as who, where, what, when, why, and how the problematic situation came to being.

STEP 3: Thorough Investigation

To shed light on the grievance and establish the facts of the case, a grievance investigation needs to be conducted by the employer. It includes speaking to individuals implicated in the case as well as witnesses. Here, the offender is allowed to respond to the allegation by denying or accepting it.

Also, additional evidence can be obtained by examining memos, emails, or CCTV. While trying to get all the corroborating evidence concerning the complaint, the parties involved in the case must maintain the confidentiality of the process.

STEP 4: Take a Final Decision

Once all the facts have been established and the investigation process concluded, the employer will decide whether to uphold part of the grievance or all or reject it. The grievance may be resolved at this stage if it is upheld. But if it is partially upheld or rejected, the process will result in the next step.

STEP 5: Appeal Notification

When the employee has been notified of the grievance outcome, they will also be notified of their right to appeal. The appeal hearing body will then review the case and investigate the grounds for appeal, including why the employee is making an appeal and what resolution they are seeking. The appeal is usually the final step involved in handling a grievance procedure.

What Ways Should Supervisors/Managers Handle a Grievance Procedure? 

When supervisors or managers receive a grievance letter or grievance form from an employee, they are expected to investigate the complaint within the timeframe stipulated in the grievance procedure process and schedule any necessary meeting in connection to the case. Their responsibilities include the following:

  • Giving written notice of the grievance meeting to the employee or any other relevant parties
  • The employee who raised the complaint should be notified of their right to get help in the form of a representative, which could be a colleague or a member of a trade union.
  • A copy of the record of the meeting (which should be recorded in writing) must be given to the employee.
  • If the complaint was lodged anonymously, the managers/supervisors should provide formal feedback on the issue during workplace meetings or put it in writing to all employees to be sure that the grievance was adequately handled.

Does a Workplace Need a Grievance Policy?

Yes, it is paramount for employers to implement a grievance policy to help deal effectively with internal issues with staff, which occur regularly. The grievance policy will result in a fair and formal grievance procedure process. Still, it will encourage them to raise concerns relating to their work, relationships with colleagues, and working conditions when need be. A standard grievance policy should have the following attributes:

  • Outline what constitutes a workplace grievance to employees to communicate a clear definition
  • Clearly state a step by step procedures for resolving the workplace grievance.
  • Establishes a formal process after reaching a resolution

FAQs About Grievance Procedures

1. What should an employee do when the outcome of the grievance procedure is not satisfactory? 

After concluding a grievance procedure process, should a worker not be satisfied with the final decision, they may decide to resign and claim constructive dismissal.

2. What do you do when a grievance is filed against you?

You’ll be allowed to respond to the grievance filed against you. At that point, you should clearly state your side of the story, submit your defense, and be able to establish a case. This will help clear the air and equally discern the tangible meaning behind the perceived action.

3. What happens if an employee is victimized after lodging a grievance?

Should an employee be victimized or harassed for lodging a grievance, they should raise the issue with the senior manager in charge of the grievance procedure. The manager is therefore required to investigate the employee’s claim at once, and if the victimization or harassment is quite gross, then those involved should be dismissed. If it’s not gross, disciplinary action must be taken.

4. What are the benefits of a grievance procedure?

An effective grievance procedure ensures a peaceful work environment. If the grievance is properly resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both employees and employers, it will most likely boost the employees’ morale, resulting in high productivity.

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